A squad of six athletes represented the Athlete Refugee Team at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, its biggest team to date at a World Athletics Series event, and quality-wise, its best.

Big PB for Lokonyen

The action began on the championships opening night with Rose Nathike Lokonyen, a member of the refugee team at the Olympic Games in 2016, who clocked 2:13.39 in her heat of the 800m, clipping more than three seconds from her previous career best set at the Rio Games.

“I always want to improve my best time so I’m happy I did that here,” said Lokonyen, who served as the team’s flag bearer in Rio. “The pace was fast but I know that I have to keep on training hard.”

Lokonyen, a refugee from South Sudan and now based at the Tegla Loroupe Training Camp for Refugee Athletes in Ngong, a town 28 kilometres from Nairobi, is splitting her time between training and her work towards a degree in business management at a college in the Kenyan capital. “Sometimes it’s difficult to train well with school and travel, but I must try.”

This was the 24-year-old’s second appearance at the World Championships – she also competed in London two years ago– and is already looking ahead.

“Now I’m going back to begin preparing for Tokyo 2020.”

Mohammed and Gabriyesos tackle the 5000m..

Later that evening, two squad members competed in the 5000m. In the first head Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed was making his first appearance at the World Athletics Championships.

 


 

Mohammed, a native of South Sudan now living and training in Israel, has improved steadily since his Athlete Refugee Team debut at the World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019, where he finished 85th among 140 finishers. He improved his 10,000m best to 28:47.36 in Tel Aviv in April, and to 13:54.28 in the 5000m in July.

Mohammed came to Doha directly from a month-long training camp in Ethiopia, via Tel Aviv, where he spent one night, and then onward to the Qatari capital via Istanbul. The latter was intended as a simple transit stop but an unanticipated visa delay forced him and teammate Tachlowini Gabriyesos to camp out at Istanbul airport for 27 hours. Finally arriving in Doha the day before the race, his body just wouldn’t respond.

“It was tough tonight,” said Mohammed, who stayed with the lead group over the opening half of the race but then faded to finish well back in 14:15.32. “My legs just couldn’t get going.”

He credited his progress in 2019 to several training stints at altitude in Ethiopia over the past eight months and looks forward to more next year as he prepares for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’d like to train six months in Ethiopia next year, spending more time at altitude, to continue improving,” he said.

 


 

Gabriyesos, who improved his personal best to 14:15.05 in July, struggled too, finishing his heat in 14:28.11. But the 21-year-old, who is also based in Tel Aviv but at a different club, was upbeat with his first Athlete Refugee Team appearance.

“The competition was tough, but I will be stronger the next time,” he said, with Mohammed serving as his interpreter. “I know I’m not at the top level but now I know what it’s like to compete with and against the top level.”

..and two in the men’s steeplechase

Two team members competed in the 3000m steeplechase.

Otmane Nait Hammou, who also competed at the World Cross Country Championships in March, will remember his World Athletics Championships debut for its rough and tumble nature after getting caught up in a collision early in the race that forced several runners to fall to the track. He was one.

“I don’t know where my mind was, I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “But it happens, even to professionals. But I didn’t give up. I said to myself, my goal is to finish and reach the finish line. I did believe in myself, even though I was very far from my PB.”

 


 

The native of Morocco who has been based between Sweden and France since 2015, clocked 8:58.71 in July. His race in Doha was just his fourth in the discipline.

His teammate Fouad Idbafdil, another Moroccan based in France who clocked a near lifetime best of 8:54.70 this year, struggled before dropping out of his heat, suffering from foot pain.

His teammate Fouad Idbafdil, another Moroccan based in France who clocked a near lifetime best of 8:54.70 this year, struggled before dropping out of his heat, suffering from foot pain.

Slight injury slows Lokoro

Paulo Amotun Lokoro, another member of the Rio team, arrived in Doha just a month after improving his 1500m best to 3:44.10. But he too struggled in his heat, slowed by hamstring pains.

“I wanted to do my level best, but the pain caused a problem,” said Lokoro, who is also based in the Ngong camp. “I had a little hamstring pain so I had to reduce my pace.”

 


 

Lokoro has improved by nearly six seconds this year, and looks forward to moving to another level next year. Like Lokonyen, he too balances studies with training, but not for much longer. He’ll be wrapping up his high school degree by the end of 2019.

“When I finish, I will be more free and can focus more on training.” Balancing the two, he said, isn’t easy. “Sometimes I train after school sometimes in the morning before school. But in two months I will be free to train full-time.”

Lokoro was also making his first World Championships appearance, and savoured it for the lessons learned.

“When I do something wrong or do something good, that is what I want to take out of any experiences, especially one like a world championship.”

Those were sentiments echoed by each member of the squad who shared their appreciation to the IAAF for assisting them both with their athletics ambitions and for helping them put a face on, and give a voice to, refugees around the world.

“I want to really thanks to IAAF for its support for the refugee team – to help us feel like human beings, not just refugees,” Hammou said.

“What I can tell my sisters and brothers all over the world is that in life, never give up,” Lokonyen said. “Don’t lose hope. Because what others can do, a refugee person can also do. We are all human beings and we can do what others do. We can achieve our goals.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF



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